previous next


A great man.

Leaving the question of his military capacity, was Robert E. Lee a great man? In the Arlington mansion there is on the first floor, a small room, to the left of the hall, which was his office and library. One day in the spring of the year 1861 he paced the floor, and alone fought out the battle in his breast of a great decision. In the evening, with a clear conscience, and looking to God for his blessing, he lay down his commission and the offer of the supreme command of the United States army; he laid down the flag he had followed, and to which he had given the prime of his manhood; he gave up the hope of peace between the States of the Republic for which he had longed and prayed; he surrendered the ancestral home and its traditions, his property and the happiness of his family. And he took up instead the rights of his State under the Constitution, and the honor and hopes of a people without an army, at the beginning of a struggle over which hung a thick veil. No small man ever made such a decision.

Is magnanimity an element of greatness? After Chancellorsville he wrote to Stonewall Jackson: ‘I congratulate you on the victory, which is due to your skill and energy.’ At the close of the battle of Gettysburg, he said: ‘All this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight.’ After his return to Virginia, he urged upon President Davis the acceptance of his resignation. Of the army he said: ‘It would be the happiest day of my life to see at its head a worthy leader, one that would accomplish more than I can perform and all that I have wished. I hope your excellency will attribute my request to the true reason—the desire to serve my country and to do all in my power to insure the success of her righteous cause.’

At Appomattox, returning from the negotiations of surrender, his men gathered around him, veterans of many fields, grim and ragged, weeping as with broken hearts, and blessing him as they wept. To them, with tones trembling with deep emotion, he said: ‘Men, we have fought through the war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more?’

Are the love of peace and order marks of greatness? After the surrender of the worn remnant of his army, not for a moment would he consent to the schemes of fierce and foolish men for the continuance of the struggle and a guerrilla warfare in the mountains. He

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Chancellorsville (Virginia, United States) (1)
Appomattox (Virginia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Robert E. Lee (1)
Stonewall Jackson (1)
James T. Davis (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: